National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
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Sexual orientation poses health care barrier for boomers

March 12, 2013 — By Sherry Greenfield — Gazette.Net - Maryland Community News Online

Frederick Community College hosted a daylong workshop last week to teach health care providers how to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender baby boomers with dignity and respect.

The workshop on Friday was sponsored by the college’s Gerontology Program, and included about 50 health care providers, social workers, and mental health care providers.

“The goal is to provide education to those working with older adults,” said RaeAnn Butler, moderator and chairwoman of the Frederick County Commission on Aging, a 20-member panel that helps oversee services for seniors.

“All seniors deserve quality care, but many {LGBT] older adults feel they need to go into the closet to get that care,” Butler said.

It was the first time the college facilitated this type of discussion, according to Butler.

“It’s a great day,” she said.

Many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender citizens born between 1946 and 1964 avoid routine health care out of fear that they will be a target of homophobia, according to the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

When they do seek medical help, their fear often stops them from telling their doctor they are LGBT, said Cindy Bray, program director of the Gay Community Center of Richmond, Va., and a certified trainer with the National Resource Center.

The center was established in 2010 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in New York, to provide training, support, and education to health care providers.

And, because many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults do not voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation for fear of being treated badly, their quality of health care is compromised, Bray said at the conference.

There are medical and behavioral issues that are specific to the LGBT community that end up being overlooked.

For example, lesbian and bisexual women consult their doctors more for emotional reasons than heterosexuals, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Gay men have an increased risk for prostate, testicular and colon cancer, the study said.

LGBT older adults are 20 percent less likely to use senior centers, housing assistance, meal programs, food stamps, and other services than heterosexual older adults, according to material distributed at the workshop.

That results in a higher risk for social isolation, inadequate housing and poor nutrition.

Workshop participants also discussed a glossary of words and phrases that have been used to negatively describe gays, lesbians and transgender adults — words that health care providers should avoid using when treating LGBT adults, Bray said.

Slang terms for gay men and women should be avoided, while homosexual is a clinical term used to describe a person who is gay or lesbian, she said.

“A lot of older people will not come out, because all their lives they have been dealing with those words,” Bray said. “‘Queer’ is one of those words that is very generational and most people find it very offensive. But it’s what they have grown up with.”

Health care providers should ask their patients how they would like to be described, Bray said.

“You need to check with the person to see what they prefer,” she said.

The terms lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender should be used instead, Bray said.

Even the term “homosexual” is not an acceptable word, because it puts the emphasis on a person’s sexuality, Bray said.

“We are trying to get people away from using that,” she said. “We want to try and take the sex part out, because it puts people in a different frame of mind.”

Steve Shapiro, a home and health care provider at Frederick Memorial Hospital and with Hospice of Frederick County, said he never uses the term.

“I don’t use it for the same reason we don’t use the word ‘colored’ [to describe African-Americans],” Shapiro said. “It’s outdated.”

“All seniors deserve quality care, but many [LGBT] older adults feel they need to go into the closet to get that care,” RaeAnn Butler